Following up on what I wrote yesterday, today brings us even more nonsense on President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize. This time it’s from The Washington Post, which argues not that Obama doesn’t deserve his Nobel, but that it would be downright unconstitutional for him to accept it.
An Unconstitutional Nobel
People can, and undoubtedly will, argue for some time about whether President Obama deserves the Nobel Peace Prize. Meanwhile, though, there’s a simpler and more immediate question: Does the Constitution allow him to accept the award?
Article I, Section 9, of the Constitution, the emolument clause, clearly stipulates: “And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince or foreign State.”
An opinion of the U.S. attorney general advised, in 1902, that “a simple remembrance,” even “if merely a photograph, falls under the inclusion of ‘any present of any kind whatever.’ ” President Clinton’s Office of Legal Counsel, in 1993, reaffirmed the 1902 opinion, and explained that the text of the clause does not limit “its application solely to foreign governments acting as sovereigns.” This opinion went on to say that the emolument clause applies even when the foreign government acts through instrumentalities. Thus the Nobel Prize is an emolument, and a foreign one to boot.
It’s like a magic trick: watch as The Washington Post disappears a bunch of conservative executive branch officials who received similar awards during their time in office:
One problem: the hero of the first Gulf War, Gen. Normon [sic] Schwarzkopf, received an honorary Knighthood from Queen Elizabeth (which technically makes him a “Knight of the British Empire”) in May of 1991 while still on active duty. According to Rotunda and Pham’s argument, this violated all kinds of constitutional constraints, Emolument Clause notwithstanding. He retired at the end of August 1991, meaning the General was clearly a foreign agent for the British Empire for approximately 3 months, because how can you be a Knight and an American General at the same time? Where would his loyalty really be? Under this Op-Ed’s logic, Schwarzkopf’s retirement South should have sent him to the Naval Brig at Charleston, not the golf courses of Florida.
Another government luminary who should have fallen victim to the Emolument Clause as the authors of the Op-Ed envision it? Alan Greenspan, who received his Honorary British Knighthood in 2002 while still serving as the Chairman of the Federal Reserve. How could President George Bush sit there idly as the Chairman overseeing America’s treasury was more a servant of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth than the Commander-in-Chief of the United States? I’m shocked that the entirety of America’s money supply didn’t end up alongside the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London. But apparently, there was concern in Conservative circles over the legality of Greenspan’s ascension in the British Empire. According to Newsmax, the Federal Reserve’s General Counsel cleared Greenspan under the Emolument Clause
Even Conservatives acquiesced that a Knighthood was not in violation of the Emolument Clause. I assume the same logic applies to a Nobel Prize.
And don’t forget Henry Kissinger, who was serving as Nixon’s Secretary of State and National Security Adviser when he was given the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize.
And also remember that two previous sitting American Presidents have won the Nobel Peace Prize–Teddy Roosevelt in 1906 and Woodrow Wilson in 1919. Neither of those awards required Congressional approval.
In mentioning Roosevelt and Wilson, though, you pick up on the real gist of the op-ed:
The award of the peace prize to a sitting president is not unprecedented. But Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson received the honor for their past actions: Roosevelt’s efforts to end the Russo-Japanese War, and Wilson’s work in establishing the League of Nations. Obama’s award is different. It is intended to affect future action. As a member of the Nobel Committee explained, the prize should encourage Obama to meet his goal of nuclear disarmament.
Second, the president has indicated that he will give the prize money to charity, but that does not solve his legal problem. Giving that $1.4 million to a charity could give him a deduction that would reduce his income taxes by $500,000 — not a nominal amount. Moreover, the money is not his to give away. It belongs to the United States: A federal statute provides that if the president accepts a “tangible or intangible present” for more than a minimal value from any foreign government, the gift “shall become the property of the United States.”
Trying to follow the logic here (not that there’s much to be found), it seems like WaPo is arguing that the Nobel/prize money (or at least the tax deduction Obama could claim for donating the prize money) would constitute a bribe–or at least payment–from the Norwegian government to President Obama in order to influence his political agenda.
That’s just idiotic–President Obama probably never banked on winning a Nobel Prize when he formulated his policies. Plus, it’s extremely, extraordinarily unlikely that a potential tax deduction and a shiny coin would somehow turn the President of the United States into an agent of a foreign government.
But, as we’ve seen, Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize has certainly dredged up crazy from the depths of the right-wing swamp; as I’ve said before, conservatives just seem to hate Obama and are looking for any justification whatsoever to attack him.
UPDATE: The WaPo piece also tries to argue that Obama already broke the emolument clause:
This is at least the second time that Obama has run afoul of the emolument clause. On June 3, 2009, the day before he gave his speech in Cairo on relations with the Muslim world, he accepted (and even donned) the bejeweled Collar of the King Abdul Aziz Order of Merit, Saudi Arabia’s highest honor, from the hands of King Abdullah. (President Bush was awarded the Order in January last year.)
So, in the very paragraph they criticize President Obama for allegedly breaking the emolument clause, they mention that President Bush did the exact same thing. Of course, when bush did it there weren’t any WaPo op-eds saying he violated the constitution.
Isn’t it funny how things like this only become scandals when Democrats are in office…
UPDATE II: As it turns out, the authors of the WaPo op-ed have predictable political leanings:
[Ronald] Rotunda previously advised Ken Starr during the Clinton administration, and [Peter] Pham now works with FDD, a notably conservative think tank.
Surprise, conservative activists dislike a progressive President winning a major award. Who could have imagined this inconceivable turn of events?